Actress and comedienne, Kathy Kinney, has been on television since the late 1980’s playing a variety of fun characters including the recurring ‘Miss Goddard’, the town librarian, on Newhart and the irascible (but lovable) ‘Mimi’ on the Drew Carey Show. But one of her most important roles is the storytelling, children’s literacy advocate, ‘Mrs. P.’ I was curious to find out more…
Kathy, we’re inspired by you and your ‘magical on-line library’ called Mrs. P. It is inspiring young people to read…so, what inspired you to create it?
We (my partners and co-creators of the website) all share the same philosophy and that is “every child deserves to have a good book read to her/him.” We wanted to recreate on the internet the joy and magic of hearing a timeless story told by a skilled storyteller—an unforgettable adventure that many children might not otherwise get to experience. We wanted to have a place where young people go on a journey taking them as far as their imaginations will allow. My partners and I grew up watching Mr. Rogers and Captain Kangaroo and felt there was something missing on the internet like this for kids. We created a free site where kids find edutainment and teachers, parents and mentors have access to free resources.
Explain your overall message that “reading is cool and so are you!”
Well it is as simple as wanting to inspire children to read and love books. Mrs. P shows kids that life is an adventure—and books are a big part of that adventure. We also know that so many kids who are readers and writers can be a bit introverted and don’t get acknowledged the same way, say, as someone who is on a sports team, so we wanted kids who do love books to know it is really is cool and Mrs. P thinks they are too.
Why is it important, in your opinion, that young people are exposed to classic books and stories?
Besides the clear evidence that reading stimulates our brain and language development from the minute we are born…we also know that kids have so many opportunities to be entertained and immersed in technology, so we wanted to have site that exposes them to books and helps them to create their own entertainment and develop their imaginations.
Each month I create a different playlist to share a collection of classic stories. I always try and include some educational information about the stories as well as questions to spark imaginations. The classics are classic for a reason—they are stories passed down from generation to generation and the morals are pretty timeless. One of my most recent posts from my “reading is cool” blog featured Hans Christian Andersen stories. I included this quote by Hans Christian Andersen as a perfect way to inspire any young writer:
Everything you look at can become a fairy tale and you can get a story from everything you touch.
I believe by exposing young people to books, we are teaching them a host of skills, from basic reading, of course, to developing listening skills and vocabulary, and building a knowledge of the world.
Tell us about Mrs. P…Who is she and how did you come up with her as the character for your storytelling?
Mrs. P is the face of the website and the star of the show. She is your favorite teacher. Your eccentric, bohemian aunt. She adores kids, but never talks down to them. She has a flair for the dramatic and when she reads her books, has an uncanny ability to bring the stories to life. She is also a bibliophile. Some people say she has a library in her house of more than 600,000 books, most of them very old. She will pick a story or chapter from one of her favorites to read to the world on her YouTube channel.
We really wanted to create a “real” person for kids on the Internet. So many of the reading sites use animation and games. We wanted to recreate that feeling of an old fashioned story time. In the last few years, we have connected with schools all across the country using Skype and Google Hangout, so Mrs. P can talk to the students directly and they get to know her, making her “magic library” even more fun.
How do you choose the stories that you read?
MrsP.com uses the limitless treasure trove of classic literature. Our stable of talent comes from the best writers ever lived! All the stories are acknowledged classics, a choice because they’ve stood the test of time and they are in the public domain, which means they’re free to use. Each story displays the words, so early readers can match the words to Mrs. P’s voice. This also helps ESL readers. We do add our own little twist at the beginning of each story to make it more modern and give it some context.
How often do you produce new videos?
Each year we produce the winning story from our annual contest into a video, and some years we’ve even made a few of the runner’s up stories into videos too because their messages were so pertinent. Like the story by a 5 year old called “The Peanut Butter and Jelly Hotdog” which deals with bullying. It’s such an important topic that we wanted to be able to share this story and help open a dialogue on this difficult subject. We are always adding new playlists with new titles. For example: last fall to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the Brothers Grimm, we added four of their lessor known stories to our Magic Library. This year you can be sure that we will be adding more playlists.
In addition to our website, we partner with others who reach the educational market. We work with not-for-profit Professor Garfield and stream 14 of our titles there for teachers who don’t use YouTube in the classroom. We also work with Tales2Go, an award-winning kids’ mobile service providing audio stories through their license to classrooms. We want to be able to offer our stories in any format a teacher or librarian might want them.
Is there a funny behind-the-scenes story that you can share?
There are so many magical moments when I am talking to the kids. Just recently we tried something totally new by announcing the grand prize writing contest winner live. One of the amazing teachers we know in Iowa, helped us get this set up so we could stream it on YouTube. We weren’t quite sure if all of the other schools were connected so I could start the announcement. It was a little crazy. And then I got this from the winning school: Their local paper took this photo and made a video that just captured it all for me when I wasn’t even sure I was connected to them or not. I had a great laugh afterwards and a huge sigh of relief that they got to see the announcement live!
In addition to Mrs. P storytelling, you also run a “Be a Famous Writer Contest” every September. Can you tell us what that’s about?
We really wanted to spark the children’s imaginations and let them be creative so we started the annual writing contest 5 years ago. We just announced the winners from the last contest a few weeks ago. The contest is for K-4 classrooms across the country. It opens every September 1st and the last day for entries is November 15th. We provide a writing prompt—the last topic was “magic.” We ask that the stories be no less than 250 words and not to exceed 1,000 words and they can be fiction or non-fiction. Each classroom can submit just one story. So, it can be a collaborative story that the whole class works on together, or the class vote on which child’s story to enter. I want to foster the idea that however they enter, if they win, they all win and their school wins too! We get great sponsors who fill the classrooms with books, audio books and digital books.
What has been the most rewarding thing about MrsP.com?
Probably the notes and comments we receive. Parents and teachers share with us how much the writing contest has made a student or child more confident. Last year we did a series of stories about some of the past contest winners. It was so amazing to hear that the Mrs. P writing contest was in most cases the first one they ever entered and that it gave them the encouragement and confidence to continue their passions. Several of our contest winners have gone on to win major writing awards, such as the Scholastic Arts and Writing Contest, the Betty Award and the PBS Kids Go Young Writers and Illustrators Contest. And many have won local library contests, not to mention being role models in their schools and states. That is so inspiring!
Also when someone on YouTube shares how we are helping them learn English— that really makes my day. I guess, just knowing that we are making a difference in any young reader’s life is truly one of the most rewarding things imaginable.
How can parents and young people get the latest news about new videos or the contest?
They can always go to my website MrsP.com to read my message area to find out what is happening. The site is a safe place for children because it contains no advertising. And parents and teachers can always get the latest news on social media. I do updates on Twitter and Facebook daily. I also have a special teacher page, for a one stop shopping of playlists and activities for their classrooms.
Is there anything special happening in 2014 you’d like to mention?
On March 5th I will participating in World Read Aloud Day and reading the winning story from my annual Be-a-Famous Writer contest live on YouTube. That should be very exciting. And of course, my 6th annual writing contest will begin on September 1st. I just re-did the design of my website homepage to make it easier and quicker for teachers to find the resources they need.
Recap of how to find Mrs. P: